Column: A Merry Christmas at Days Inn

Published 10:15 am Friday, December 23, 2022

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By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith | Community Columnist

This month demolition began on Days Inn (formerly Holiday Inn) of Clanton. While the building had seen its best years of hosting Peach Festival swimming parties in the 1980’s and a more elegant Sunday dining experience in the 1990’s complete with white linen tablecloths, the Days Inn was something more sentimental to me.

In 1989, at age seven, our family home in Jemison, burned down. My family was fairly new to Chilton County, so my parents did not know anyone within the community that may have helped us. Losing our home that year was next to homelessness. My parents booked a room at Clanton’s Days Inn until we could find a new home and save the necessary money to purchase items like new clothes, shoes and toiletries.

During our three months at Days Inn and the three of us living in a one-room space, we made the best of it. Despite the stress that my parents must have felt, I do not recall them ever arguing. We ate McDonalds and Taco Bell (newly opened that year) more times than I can recall. During my time at Days Inn, I learned the Lord’s Prayer, which was found in the night-stand Gideon’s Bible. Besides giving a 7 year old something to keep them busy in a hotel room every afternoon, it became something I looked forward to and gave me pride during a difficult time in my life of learning something new. My family spent Christmas that year at Days Inn. Considering the circumstances and financial difficulties, it was a very humble Christmas. There was not a Christmas dinner — no dressing, ham or pies. My parents did manage to buy a two-foot artificial tree that they put beside the television set on the console. On Christmas morning when I woke up not expecting anything, I was delighted to see a beautiful porcelain doll in a red dress, with matching hat beside the tree. She was the same height as the tree and was beautiful.  Even though we were living in an extremely difficult situation, my “Days Inn Christmas” continues to be my favorite Christmas memory. It is the most valuable Christmas memory because I became aware that year of what a tremendous blessing it is to have your family all together.  My perspective of what Christmas truly is was not clouded by toys, but in the meaning of the holiday.

Years later, after losing my father to cancer, celebrating Christmas seemed like a bad idea. It was full of reminders that he was not there to celebrate with us. The void of his absence cast a dark shadow on the holidays. Instead of celebrating the traditional way with opening presents, we went to the movies instead. I can’t say that it was a good experience — we missed him, and it was painful. However, even in our sorrow, my mother and I were grateful to spend it together.

Much like our everyday life, the Bible’s Christmas story is relatable in sharing the everyday pain we experience. Nearing the end of her pregnancy, I imagine Mary and Joseph’s journey to complete the government’s census was miserable. During a time close to Hanukkah, which is supposed to be full of celebrations, friends, family and food; their journey was difficult, painful and non-accommodating. It was followed by persecution. Yet, Christmas offers us hope during our difficult moments.

I am grateful Days Inn had a room for my family all those years ago. That one simple doll was worth a hundred dolls. I remind myself of that simple Christmas joy each year when shopping for my own child and family. The climax of Christmas is not about giving your family everything they want. The miracle happens that in the midst of pain and suffering: love, joy, peace and hope can still be found. Where ever you find yourself this Christmas, there is hope for tomorrow because Jesus Christ is born today.